Chicago-born showman and vocal powerhouse David Davis, has become internationally renowned for his undeniable talent and electric energy.
Drawing inspiration from the likes of Stevie Wonder, Donny Hathaway, and India Arie.
David’s brand of soulful songwriting has seen him achieve a variety of awards and glowing reviews, even receiving the seal of approval from the legendary Quincy Jones, having performed an epic 73-show residency at Jones’ club, “Q’s” in Dubai.
We took the extremely rare opportunity of catching Davis in his downtime to discuss all things from his hometown of Chicago to self-care.
What age were you when you began creating music and how old were you when you knew this is what you wanted to pursue?
So I started singing at age four, I began singing in church. And once I got a grip of that and was doing like solos and stuff in the choir, my parents thought I wonder what else you can do. So they put me in violin lessons and piano lessons and I just kind of grew my love for music through being trained to a young age.
That’s amazing. Is there a specific song that reminds you of your childhood, or growing up or reminds you of falling in love with music?
Stevie Wonder’s ‘As’, it definitely reminds me of growing up, because my dad is a huge Stevie Wonder fan, my mom’s also a huge Stevie Wonder fan, and it was just all that played in the household growing up! We’d be driving to school or wherever as a kid, I’m one of 8 kids, so we’d all be slammed into this big suburban car and my Dad, would be like: “Whoever knows every word to Stevie’s ‘As’ will get some ice cream”, if we could learn all the words to his favourite song because there’s just so many lyrics in that song. I must have been about four years old, but that song stands out to me as one of the most impactful songs growing up.
Is there an artist that like totally reevaluated the way that you perceive music?
Oh, I’d have to say Stevie again. I mean, if I can answer Stevie for both questions!
I remember hearing one of his songs in middle school called ‘Lately’, and that song approaches male vulnerability in a way that I had never really heard in music before, especially at the time in the 2000s. Most popular music was super macho, and for this just brilliant man to say, “Lately, I’ve been staring in the mirror very slowly picking me apart, trying to tell myself I have no reason to your heart”, just hearing someone be that vulnerable from a black male perspective, it really made me walk into writing for myself and embrace vulnerability and stripping any ideas of ego off of a song and just pursuing the heart of that song.
So looping back around to Chicago. Did that city shape your taste or as a person and artist?
Yeah, Chicago’s full of incredible live music, and it’s mainly in the kind of blues soul and even gospel area. So growing up around that, and being able to go to jazz brunches, and that type of thing for school outings, was definitely impactful. Chicago has a really good music education program. So I was really heavily involved in all the performance activities that you could think of, with educators that had you know, previously done music as a career or we’re extremely well educated and could communicate what we were trying to learn well.
How important do you think music is in education? Do you think there’s enough there’s enough funding and focus upon it?
I think it’s completely under-served and in proportion to the value it provides to kids. Even if you don’t become Beyonce, or become the next big thing or whatever, there’s so much that’s scientifically proven to benefit growth, music opens up your mind to thinking in different ways and creativity at a young age, it can really help you discover yourself and discover a different way of looking at things, even playing piano helps increase improve your typing skills. So there’s all sorts of ways that music is is integral in developing yourself as a whole person. I don’t relate to become a professional musician. And of course, it’s a really good emotional outlet as well, for sure.
Touching back on Chicago one last time, as a city which such a history of great musicians, is there a specific Chicago artist that you would say is your favourite?
I would say of the current artists, I think Common is incredible. The way that crafts his lyrics, and his rapping is so phenomenal. This emergence of funk and soul behind rappers I just think it’s so cool, especially when he has more of like a spoken word thing going on. I find it combines the popular with, like, legacy music, which is perfect.
What do you think is the biggest obstacle that you’ve had to overcome in your career?
Oh, I think the overall umbrella is that when I was first beginning and starting out, I met a handful of people over the course of my career who would see what I can do, and they would try and shape me in the spirit of development, but make me somebody that I wasn’t and encouraged me to be someone that I wasn’t, basically trying to make me serve them with promises of a better career or getting my dream to happen. I really downplayed a lot of myself, and the things that make me special. I’m a queer black artist. That was something that, when I first started, wasn’t something you really talked about. I love how society today is becoming more embracing of people for who they are, especially as artists.
So I’d say like the biggest obstacles have been, quite honestly, moments of homophobia or racism within the music industry, where I had to decide after dealing with that for a few years, is this something that I’m going to allow to dim my light? Making several stands on that and saying, this is who I am, take it or leave it, this is what I created, take it or leave it. That’s really when opportunities started opening up for me, when I started being who I wanted and making what I wanted to make. I’m going to be who I am, I’d rather be known for who I am and struggle and then be successful and known for what I’m not and not be happy with myself.
So how much does your lyrical content to try and address those topics like racism or homophobia? Do you try and tackle themes like that in your in your lyricism or do you find it difficult to try and get that personal in your lyrics?
It’s a bit of a balance. So the first the first thing I’ll say is, the last track on all my all my albums always has some sort of social justice theme and goes straight to what I’m trying to say, I can not mince words. On my first record called Ordinary Day, that’s just what my opinion of the world is and how I see it and how I’ve been treated and where I want the world to go. But in a broader sense, I think being yourself is an act of resistance and an act of of political justice. By professing the love that you have in your life, that may not be conventional and that may not be along with the norm, I think that in and of itself is taking a stand, even if it isn’t explicitly rebellious or challenging, it’s more about connecting with people who understand you.
Do you struggle finding the right words to accurately communicate your experience? Are there any tips for other writers you can share to how you get into that space?
Yeah, I would say write what you know. That’s really the simplest way to put it for me, don’t write about something you don’t know about or about someone that you’re not. Because if you’re if you’re trying to put yourself in a position where you want to create something off of things that you don’t really understand or know a lot about, it’s a lot harder to write. Whereas for me, it’s just like, I just write what I know, I write what I am, what I experience and just tell the story and let people infer what they want from that. I found it very difficult to try, to write about a specific path of life that I’ve never walked on. Unless it’s a work for hire kind of thing, or writing for another artists, in which case, I usually like the artists or directors to be in the room so I can ask them their story, ask them what they want to write about, get their perspective, and put myself in their shoes. But when it’s for yourself, like honestly just write what you know.
What was your favourite song or album of lockdown? What’s kind of got you through?
That’s a really good question. There’s this band called MUNA that has this song called ‘Number One Fan’ and another song called ‘Stay Away’ their whole album is really good but those two songs in particular are amazing. The one called Number One Fan is all about self empowerment and well, if no one likes me it’s fine because i’m our number one fan. The groove is just so good. Being locked down, and deprived of things and people you love, I’d play that song just dance in my apartment and I’d just feel like everything is fine. Even though the world is burning, that song makes everything feel fine.
What is the most important song that you have written?
I’ve got to say, I think my song ‘Little Mo’ Betta’ is one of the most important ones I’ve written because especially in the last year and a half, positivity has been very important to stay out of the downward spiral. I’ve seen that song, sung in like different languages by people who have no experience of my culture, from completely different cultures and just instantly start smiling when they sing to it or dance to it. The ability to be able to spread that positivity in light of some of the heaviest stuff we’ve been through in the last year has been really important for me, and really, an honour for me to see.
When’s the most inspiring time to write your music?
If I haven’t written in a while, meaning like three days, I’ll start dreaming of songs. I’ll wake up in the middle of night and have to record something or like do a voice memo. So I’d probably say either early in the morning or late at night, after I’ve kind of incubated the idea in my brain.
What’s Inspired you recently?
Ah, I had a breakup. Last couple months, which was very, very inspiring. But I don’t actually find post breakup to be very inspiring. I find before it’s happens for some reason. I think this transcends just music, but we all have our suspicions and our body realises things before our mind does. So the month before that ended, it seemed to just be song after song after song, I found myself kind of putting myself in the position of if we broke up, what would I feel? What would I be like? How am I going to get through? How would it happen?
I know it’s been quite a creatively bankrupt year being stuck inside and doing the same things and the same routine. So to anyone out there struggling for writer’s block, have you got any tips?
Take care of yourself, I think self care is most important part to getting through writer’s block. A lot of the writer’s block is beating yourself up and thinking that you should be creative when you don’t feel creative. I kind of think creativity is more of a visitation than then like a trade, you have to just make sure that you have the right conditions for creativity, the best and one of the best ways, is to be rested and to take care of yourself and those days that you want to lay on the couch and watch Netflix and eat crap food, like just do it. No, you can’t do it forever. But eventually, creativity will come back once you feel better.
We all know those sessions which are forced and you create something you’re not super proud of, but those days when I feel blocked I’ll now think, have I gone for a run? Have I taken a shower? Do I even like myself right now? Because if I don’t like myself then why would creativity like to come visit me.
Is there a song that you wish you’d written?
I wish that I wrote ‘Case of You’ by Joni Mitchell. I’ve never heard a song that perfectly encapsulate what people are to us. The impact they leave on us after they’ve left. There’s a line where she says: I remember you told me love was touching souls. But surely you touched mine because part of you pours out of me. You have a thing where, after you’ve broken up with somebody, you do something that’s just like them or say something they would have said, or show some of the same characteristics, and it stops you in your tracks. It’s like, wow, am I that much of a sponge that I can like pick up these traits so fast when spending so much time with somebody? So yeah, it’s a beautiful song that really resonates.
If you could collaborate with any living artist, who would your dream collaboration be?
I would love to write a gut wrenching ballad for Beyonce. That’s the easiest answer, that voice is just so iconic. So I would love to write her a real tear jerker.
We try and ask everyone that we interview this question, and I know it’s quite a big one but… In your opinion what is the best pop song ever written?
Oh, no! Oh no, no!
I told you it’s a big one!
My instinct is telling me, that of all time, I’d probably have to say Signed, Sealed Delivered by Stevie Wonder. If I’m gonna have to put cash on that, I think it’s Signed, Sealed, Delivered. It’s so important and is the backdrop to every big life event for so many people, to every like iconic movie, it’s hard to imagine going through life without ever hearing that song. It’s it’s survived the test of time, like Gen Z knows about it. I’ve seen this all over the world, you can be anywhere and that song comes on and everyone, no matter what language they speak, will sing the hook, every single time. I haven’t seen that with many other songs.
Finally, what can we expect from your next release? What have you got lined up for us and what will it sound like?
I’ve got a project coming out, my full album will be out towards the end of the year but I have an EP for that album called “Future, fortunes desire”. The first song dropped on April 16th. I normally make records, where I go into a studio with 12 of my favourite musician friends, and we sit and we play and capture the performance, whereas now without the ability to do that. It’s been more about creating a performance and playing a lot of it myself and with my co producer. So this sound heads a bit more on the like electronic side but still has the kind of groove and soul to it, I’m known for!